Wachthuis, 231 Pretorius Street, Pretoria City Centre, Tshwane
Conceived as an adaptable container for human actions, the Wachthuis is one of Norman Eaton's seminal public works commissioned by the South African Police in 1949. Although better known for its pedestrian arcade (Polley's Arcade), renowned for his use of bricks, the Wachthuis evidently shows Eaton's mastering of the use of concrete and glass. The spatial grandeur of the public realm of the arcade sets the building apart from the dull character of usual or current shopping centers. With his regionalist approach, evident in the protective cantilevers and use of natural materials, established a unique African character of the building with relevance to its environment. In contrary to the public mind of a massive and fortress-like building, Norman Eaton designed a light, elegant and exposed building, which seemed more appropriate to house the South African Police.
 Current known heritage status
Subject to Section 32 of the NHRA (25 of 1999) as a work with architectural merit by an architect of note.
 Known interested and affected parties
City of Tshwane Metropolitan Municipality
Telephone : +27 (0) 12 358 0343
Postal Address: PO Box 6338
Republic of South Africa
The Pretoria Institute for Architecture (PIA)
Telephone : +27 (0) 12 346 1051 or 012 346 8438
Fax: +27 (0) 12 346 1016
Postal Address: PO Box 35161
Republic of South Africa
Physical Address: 341 Brooklyn Road
University of Pretoria
Telephone: +27 (0)12 420-3111
Fax number: +27 (0)12 420-4555
E-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Postal Address: University of Pretoria
Republic of South Africa
South African Police Services (SAPS)
Telephone: +27 (0) 12- 393 1000
Fax number: +27 (0) 12- 393 2819
Postal Address: Thibault Main Entrance
Private Bag x 94
Republic of South Africa
Since the early nineties of the nineteenth century, Polley's Hotel had functioned as hotel in Pretorius Street. It was demolished in 1950 and the Wachthuis, the headquarters of the South African Police, erected in its place. The Wachthuis was the next major commission of Norman Eaton after the Pretoria Netherlands Bank. The building was named after the first Police Station established in Cape Town in the days of Ryk Tulbagh (1699-1771), governor of the Cape Colony from 27 February 1751 to 11 August 1771. The naming of Polley's arcade was to commemorate the Hotel which once stood at its place. Since its completion in 1960, the building has been significantly altered and extended and it becomes difficult to differentiate between the additions, alterations and original building. The building has since its completion in 1960 lost its spatial appeal of the public realm of Polley's Arcade and Clinton Harrop-Allin commented in 1975: "Today a cacophony of shop display destroys the grandeur"; referring to the degradation of the simplicity and uniformity of Polley's Arcade. Today, the building is in need of renovation and attention is to be given to the finer and explicit details to restore its lost grandeur and elegance and free the building from overly fussy additions by other designers.
 Description of site and/or structures and/or interior spaces
The Wachthuis is a prime example of Pretoria Regionalism, representing an architecture which is deeply rooted in its place. The innovative use of "traditional" materials and techniques is a characteristic which is evident in all of Eaton's buildings. Greatly influenced by Robert Schmikl (1903-1972), materials such as oven fired bricks or the off-cuts of a local stone mason were used due to budget constraints. Locally and industrially produced building materials were reinterpreted and the innovative use of bricks has a long lasting legacy in Pretoria .
The Wachthuis however has many elements that can be attributed to the International Style. In essence a concrete frame structure based on the dom-ino system, characteristics like strip windows, articulated staircases (not only the sweeping stair double staircase of Polley's Arcade) are references to the International Style. However, the different type of machine aesthetic of Norman Eaton was what set his work apart. Since the completion of the building in 1960, it has been significantly altered and extended, making it important to point out the original building. The building connects the two streets Schoeman and Pretorius by a wide pedestrian mall. It consists of a parking basement, ground floor shops and three seven-storey office blocks. These were connected by a service block on the western side of the building, due its orientation which makes it least suitable for office use. Towards Pretorius Street, ground floor and mezzanine level shops extended the arcade onto the street edge. Future extension of the building was kept in mind from the first drawings for three further office blocks on the northern part similar to the ones on the south.The slope of the site from south to north has been utilized to split the arcade into two equal parts on different levels, linked in the centre of the building by a double stairway. This allows the floor level to be horizontal and the southern part underneath the arcade was utilized for basement shops and offices
The exterior of the building is characterized by a graceful horizontality. Delicate sun screening, a projecting roof canopy and the shelf-like floor slabs, with simple glazing from floor to ceiling give a sense of weightlessness to the building. Today, the facade is cluttered by air-condition units, destroying the appeal of the elegant brise soleil. As with the Netherland's Bank design Eaton had the desire of maximum flexibility of function. It was his aim to draft a building which would be dynamic in the response to the client's future needs.
"There is no settled planning today. Whatever you do has to be flexible. You have got to try and create shelves and cupboards within which people can arrange themselves according to what they require for that particular moment - and requirements change from year to year. I think that this approach of producing a simple shell in which you can flexibly do things is in the best interests of you clients and, if you can do it well, you will be producing the most worthwhile architecture."
Horizontal slabs are supported by widely spaced columns and beams were avoided, so as not to spoil the simplicity and elegance of the skeleton structure. This left Eaton with completely clean and uncluttered "shelves" which could be subdivided as required by the client making it possible to see through the building. Eaton explored possible alternatives to avoid interior partitions, influencing the clients to dispose of divisions were possible and the use of open plan office environs. Furniture was also used as dividing elements and partitions were kept as low as possible, always of a temporary construction which could be removed as requirements changed. Shops were kept without any divisions which would be done as the requirements of the tenants were known. The modular approach allowed for flexibility and continuity of the entire composition. The free standing columns in the arcade are covered in blue mosaic tiles and the spacing and the use of white grouting detracting from the solid and structural nature of the column. The mezzanine levels are suspended from the floors above and do not touch the structural columns additionally adding to the lightness and openness of the public space.Polley's arcade connects the streets on both sides of the building. It is exquisitely covered in mosaic murals and the patterns inspired by African motifs. In an article written by Norman Eaton in 1960 he says:
"Architecture results from the proper 'orchestration' of all the instruments of function and beauty that combine on the mother of the Arts to give visual and emotional pleasure and instruction to the observer."
He further expanded his argument by saying that the mutual sympathy of Arts and Architecture needs to contribute to a main central theme. An underlying unity is given to the seeming randomness of the patterns by long parallel lines following the direction of the arcade. The change from directional lines into sweeping curves emphasize the level change at the center of the arcade and a central oval pattern shape is said to be inspired by designs of an African tribal shield.
UPSpace at the University of Pretoria: Norman Eaton Collection
Artefacts: Eaton, Norman Musgrave
Article (Fisher, R C): Norman Eaton: Some influences on his insights (1997)
Article (Le Roux, M): Revisiting Making: the space in between Africa and Modernism in the work of Norman Eaton (1902 – 1966)
Eaton, NM, 1960, Art in Architecture, Fontein 1 (1), Sable Publishers
Fisher, CR, Le Roux, S, Maré, E (eds.), 1998, Architecture of the Transvaal. Pretoria: University of South Africa.
Harrop-Allin, C, 1975, Norman Eaton: Architect. A study of the works of South African Architect Norman Eaton (1902-1966), Cape Town : C. Struik.
Harrop-Allin, C, 1969, Norman Eaton. Apostle of the Art of gracious living. Lantern: Journal of Knowledge & Culture XIX (2)